This Sunday I will be subject of the Father’s Day celebrations for the first time. In just over ten weeks of fatherhood I’ve learned a lot about parenting, but no lesson has made a more significant impact than the one I learned on day two.
Nearing 36 hours in the same cramped hospital room, coronavirus limitations amped up the claustrophobia. As the walls shrunk closer and closer, I was becoming more comfortable as a parent. Diaper-changing times drastically shrank. Nimble fingers figured out how to tuck the swaddle just right to snuggle the baby tight. Feeding and burping was a breeze.
“This isn’t too bad. I think I have this figured out.”
Of all the thoughts to go through my head over almost 30 years of living, that may be the most short-sighted ever, and I actually once thought Billy Gillispie was the perfect fit for Kentucky.
It’s well-documented that dads have it easy, especially in the early days of a child’s life. After nurses and lactation consultants bugged my wife in-between feedings and diaper changes, I was prepared to give her a break ahead of our second long night as parents by rocking the baby to sleep with the dulcet tones of Ken Burns’ The Roosevelts. Once I fired up the iPad, Baby and Mom were asleep in no time. My fool-proof plan was working to perfection.
“People said this was hard? Being a parent is easy.”
Not ten seconds after that idiotic thought crossed my mind, I felt a tingling sensation on the tip of my nose. Where the itch came from, I had no idea, but I could not get it to go away. Before I could try something, anything to stop it, my body let out an aggressive sneeze the echoed off the tiny walls in the room.
Baby was awake and so was Mom. Rocking, talking walking around the room, I tried anything and everything to get Baby back to sleep. Not only did it not work, he seemed even madder than before, screaming at me as though he was saying, “Why would you do that? JERK!”
After almost ten minutes, I was defeated. Mom took the reins and I plopped down onto the futon, wondering why a sneeze had to ruin such serenity. Once Mom successfully soothed our son and put him back to sleep, through my sleep-deprived sulking the enriching epiphany finally hit me.
It’s obvious that I was naive to think I had solved fatherhood over the night. Just like every person, parents make mistakes. My mistake was believing that the rules to raising children are rigid. What works for one person once may not work for the same person a second time. As my child grows, I will too. We’ve now solved the sleeping challenge. The next will be teething, then crawling, walking and potty-training. Before I know it I’ll be white-knuckling the handles on the passenger-side door teaching him how to drive.
My first mistake as a parent was believing that parenting is a task that can be mastered. There’s no such thing as “figuring out” parenting; you learn as you go. Every day presents a new challenge and that’s why it’s my life’s most beautiful and rewarding experience.
Happy Father’s Day, Dads.